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Skate photographer Atiba Jefferson on being daring

9 min read
Skate photographer Atiba Jefferson on being daring

Atiba Jefferson is a legend on the planet of skateboard pictures (and skateboarding typically). With greater than 25 years of expertise behind the lens, his work has and continues to grace the covers and pages of practically each main skateboard journal recognized to humankind.

However don’t maintain him to simply skateboarding. The Los Angeles-based artistic additionally moonlights with the Lakers, taking pictures every little thing from video games to participant portraits; works as a reside music photographer, touring and documenting a few of rock, pop, and rap’s largest acts; and is a highly-coveted studio portrait and way of life shooter, recognized for collaborating with seriously-impressive manufacturers and seriously-intimidating movie star shoppers.

Maybe extra importantly, although, Atiba is a super-positive dude who radiates a DIY power and a real sense of pleasure. Right here, he displays on his profession as a Black skateboard photographer in a white-dominated area; plus, we chat in regards to the significance of being daring, the importance of mentorships, the magic of the darkroom, and what it was prefer to cowl skateboarding’s Olympic debut.

Skate photographer Atiba Jefferson on being daring
Man Mariano frontside feebles a ledge. © Atiba Jefferson

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Which got here first, your ardour for skateboarding or your ardour for pictures? And when did you begin?

Skateboarding. Skateboarding led me to so many issues in my life: pictures, artwork, music, tradition, touring, every little thing. I began skateboarding at 13 years outdated, so 1989.

How outdated had been you if you first picked up a digicam and what mannequin was it?

It was my junior 12 months of highschool. So I used to be 15. The very first digicam I used, and that is actually humorous as a result of I’ve it, maintain on (holds up a plastic-looking digicam). It’s not the precise one but it surely was for a photograph class and I bear in mind you possibly can take out a Pentax K1000 or this digicam, a Canon Snappy Q. It was these two cameras. It was simply whichever you had been in a position to get. So each of these cameras had been my first cameras.

And that is clearly nonetheless the movie period, so that you’re doing the darkroom.

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. There was no such factor as digital. So yeah, it was strictly darkroom. And that’s what actually attracted me to pictures is seeing prints being made and the magic of that.

An epic photo of a man dunking a basketball against a blue sky.
Basketball is only one of Atiba’s many passions, along with pictures, skateboarding, music, and extra. © Atiba Jefferson

The place was your first skateboard picture printed and do you bear in mind the skater/trick? 

My first images had been in Slap journal. Native skaters, it was Danny Barone, certainly one of my nonetheless actually good buddies, and this dude Mike Ambrose. So it was a collage of images from individuals who contributed. It was their picture Graffiti part. 

In order that was a foot within the door, how did your skateboard pictures profession progress from there?

Let me say it yet another time, it was a kind of issues the place I despatched images to Slap. That was my first time. Then I used to be working at a skateshop and I might name Transworld [skateboard magazine] to order it and I might discuss to Selema Masekela. He labored in gross sales. Again then, my buddy had despatched footage to Grant Brittain (the chief picture editor) and he was like, “Dude, he despatched me a letter again telling me what was mistaken.” So I did the identical factor. Then the telephone variety of Transworld I had from speaking to Masekela, and it was within the journal. So I might simply name and be like, is Grant Brittain there?

And I might simply ask him issues. That’s why I used to be a Transworld particular person. As a result of Slap, there was no telephone quantity [in the magazine]. I might’ve known as them for certain. However Transworld there was a telephone quantity, so I might come up with them. I used to be simply sending images. [And Grant] would critique them. That’s one massive factor that I at all times say, advice-wise: As a photographer, all of us suppose our images are the best. Proper? We’re like, “Our images are one of the best,” [but they’re often not].

And I bear in mind Grant being like—I used to be taking pictures with a [third-party] 28mm lens, simply sort of [a bad lens]—I bear in mind Grant being like, “Yo, put your slide on the sunshine desk and take a look at it subsequent to {a magazine}, and inform me in case your images look pretty much as good as these of the journal.” And after I did that and I used to be like, “No, my images are horrible.” It pushed me to go, “How do I make my picture appear to be these within the journal?” And that’s clearly pictures. If you’d like your picture to appear to be Anton Corbijn’s, take a look at his image and determine it out. Which is on the similar time dangerous recommendation, as a result of then I begin emulating Spike Jones and all these [other famous photographers] and I didn’t actually give myself my very own model till somewhat bit later in life.

A piortrait of Drake.
Along with fast-action pictures, Atiba can be a eager portrait shooter working with well-known shoppers starting from Dua Lipa to Drake. © Atiba Jefferson

You appear to have a knack for photographing topics that transfer shortly.

I believe the superb factor about motion is, that it’s actually one millisecond that can by no means occur once more. In portraiture, you will get 5 frames of the identical, actual expression. However [with action] you’ll by no means get the very same second. I believe it’s additionally the self-deprecation of figuring out if you [screwed] up and being like, “I’m going to get it proper.” And nonetheless, you don’t. However chasing it, it’s like chasing a excessive, I suppose.

It’s enjoyable to look by means of your portrait portfolio and to see all these actually massive names that you simply’ve labored with. Your topics at all times look so calm and comfortable, it’s fairly the distinction to your action-oriented photographs.

Images is a social talent. It’s 75% social abilities, it’s 25% figuring out the best way to use a digicam. My entire factor is, my portraiture, I don’t even suppose it’s that… I believe it’s good, however a David LaChappelle or somebody who will get these folks to get all loopy, I believe that’s superb. However I don’t need to power folks to not be who they’re. So after I method a portrait, I’m going, “Hey, I need you to be your self. Do you want smiling?” And a few persons are like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Let’s get that. For those who don’t, simply stand there.” I shoot actually quick as a result of most individuals don’t like their footage being taken.

I need folks to have a very good time. So it’s actually ensuring the vibe’s good, choosing up on indicators in the event that they’re not into it, shoot it fast and be out, you already know?

The front and back cover of the September 2020 issue of Thrasher magazine.
The back and front cowl of the September 2020 subject of Thrasher journal. © Thrasher/Atiba Jefferson

Talking of portraits, your September 2020 Thrasher cowl showcasing portraits of legendary Black skate boarders, each previous and current, is tremendous iconic. Are you able to simply inform me somewhat bit about how that got here to be, conceptually?

Everybody talks about recognizing the affect of Black tradition on skateboarding. Everybody is aware of it. But it surely was only a excellent time for the world to sort of cease and acknowledge the affect of the Black neighborhood everywhere. They usually (Thrasher) had been like, “Yo, we would like you to do what you need to do.” So it was a tremendous alternative to have the ability to go, “Hey, that is what I believe.” There’s not only one, there are such a lot of Black skaters which have modified skateboarding. It was nice to simply be capable to hand-pick it. They had been like, “Do you.” There was no query requested. It was extra simply laborious to slender it right down to a [specific] quantity. 

So that you got here up with the thought, did you even have a say within the ultimate association?

Yeah, completely. They had been like, “What do you suppose?” Working for Thrasher was actually superb. They actually respect my opinion as a lot as I completely respect theirs. So yeah, they had been 100% like, “Precisely. Do you. Let’s see your imaginative and prescient.”

Tyshawn Jones ollies a picnic table.
Tyshawn Jones ollies a picnic desk. This picture additionally ended up on the duvet of Thrasher. © Atiba Jefferson

Talking of magazines, is there a favourite cowl you’ve shot?

I’ve 10 (Thrasher) covers now. And that’s it, I’m completed. However actually, Tyshawn Jones is sort of a little brother to me. Clearly, my favourite cowl would most likely be… not most likely. My favourite cowl is clearly the Black skaters’ portraits. However Tyshawn, I get so proud to see this child I’ve recognized since he was just a bit child at 14, wanting some Emericas (skateboard footwear), to grow to be who he’s grow to be.

I’m nonetheless chasing my favourite cowl. That’s the factor. I don’t see the proper factor. I see what I did mistaken and what I can do higher after I see my images.

What was it prefer to cowl the Olympics each as a photographer, and as somebody who grew up with skateboarding?

It was an enormous honor. I’ve shot Kobe Bryant each time he’s received a championship. I’ve been there when he misplaced one. So I’ve seen these wonderful moments on the world stage. And skateboarding’s by no means actually been on that so far as a contest. After which to be there for that second, it was superb. It was simply actually cool.

Portrait of Lebron.
Atiba additionally works as a photographer for the Los Angeles Lakers. © Atiba Jefferson

I do know you latterly began working with Canon as an Explorer of Mild, what’s that been like?

It’s a dream come true to have the ability to be acknowledged for my pictures, from a digicam firm, versus shoe firms or board firms or no matter. [Some companies] are like, “We need to do that with you. We need to try this with you” and I’m very flattered and honored to do this stuff. However a digicam firm—and particularly as a skateboarder, to be Black and be capable to work with a model that you simply by no means thought was attainable—it’s unbelievable. The truth that I can encourage different photographers the identical method, is simply nice. And to have the ability to go to the Olympics and shoot with the EOS R3 that nobody [had at the time]—to shoot with these cameras that aren’t even out, it’s unbelievable.

And to have the ability to discuss to the Canon staff the [at the summer Olympics] and them desirous to know my enter on what could make the digicam higher, and “what do I need and what do I want?” It’s simply nice, all of the Canon sources.

So, now that Canon’s listening, are there any lenses in your want record that you simply’re hoping to see made? 

If I might phantomly invent a lens? Nicely, that may be up 14-200mm f/2.0 (laughs). [Canon] simply retains blowing me away. The 14-35mm has been such a game-changer for me. Unbelievable game-changer. It’s one of the crucial enjoyable lenses I’ve had in a very long time. And like I mentioned, the 50mm f/1.2 modified my entire look. That’s what I shot that Thrasher portrait cowl with.

And eye detection, with 50mm f/1.2 and eye detection, you’re good to go. It’s simply wider, extra mild. I’m actually into extra mild. I’m actually into f/1.2. I like that shallow depth of really feel you get.

The rock band, Turnstile.
The rock band, Turnstile. © Atiba Jefferson

I used to be going to ask, had been most of these portraits shot at f/1.2, or had been they stopped down somewhat bit?

Every part was f/1.2.

Do you could have any ideas for younger photographers as we speak? How can they get their toes within the door?

Take note of what you are able to do to enhance your pictures. Take note of those that are good at it and what they’re doing. And simply love what you do. If pictures is one thing that you simply don’t actually love, it’s going to be a tricky factor. I do know there are individuals who simply need to be a photographer for the glory and it really works for them. However for me, it’s simply [about] having a ardour for it and simply having fun with it—life’s too quick to not do what you need to do.

Try extra of Atiba Jefferson’s work right here.

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